TITLE: 新年快乐 (Happy New Year)
CHARACTERS: Al/Mei, Ling/Lan Fan, their collective children, OC’s (palace staff)
SUMMARY: The morning of the Xingese New Year heralds the birth of the Emperor’s Dragon’s first son. While the Imperial family speculate whether the boy’s birth is an omen, Mei decides that Rei will definitely not be their last baby.
WORD COUNT: 1,848
AUTHOR’S NOTES: I wanted to do something for Chinese New Year, and I was really fascinated with the dragon and lion dances on youtube, but I couldn’t come up with anything really (been in a slump lately) so this is what I’ve got. Hope it’s enjoyable, I didn’t beta this. PART OF MY CELESTIAL CIPHERS SERIES.
It was early in the morning when Mei’s water broke. Through their soul bond, Al could feel his wife’s panicked energy as she woke to find herself soaking their bed. He turned over and sat up, grabbing her hand.
“It’s alright, breathe,” he said quietly, his other hand rubbing her back. “Don’t worry about the bed, just try to calm down.”
He flexed his ki against hers, soothing her as her labor began. Eventually, after a long stretch of time had passed into the darkness, she had a handle on the situation. “Go send for Tian, then come back with a cool rag,” she commanded telepathically as she used the breathing techniques she’d learned from her previous labor to ease her discomfort.
Alphonse pulled on enough clothing to get to the door of their garden home and ring the small brass gong that sat on their porch. Within seconds, a black clad assassin landed in front of him.
“My Lord,” the young man said as he kneeled before Al.
“The baby’s coming, I need someone to bring Tian here,” he said as looked back into the house, listening for any sign of distress from Mei.
The ninja before him bowed his head. “Right away, My Lord,” and then leapt away into the garden, silent as a shadow and bounding toward the imperial palace. He turned and went back inside, fetching a stack of cloths and a dish of water before returning to his bedchamber.
Mei was lying on her side, eyes closed and meditating as her contractions began to come. They didn’t speak as he dipped the washcloth into the water, wrung it out and wiped at her brow and face. When her pains came, he held her hand and moved with her, anticipating position changes through their unique bond that had been forged on the day his wife had transmuted his steel body to save Ed’s life when they battled together on the Promised Day.
When Tian arrived, she praised the Emperor’s Dragon for his care of Mei, then promptly ushered him out of the room.
As dawn lit the garden, his three-year-old twins woke, rubbing their eyes and asking why their Ma-Ma was wailing in pain.
He took Su and Li and sat them in his lap and explained that their brother Rei was coming, and when babies come out, it’s very painful for the mother.
“Don’t worry, though,” he said with a smile. “Ma-Ma is very strong and very brave, and after all, she’s already had you two come out of her belly, she can handle one tiny little boy.”
Li’s face lit up into a smile. “Rei made it in time for the celebration tonight! He can see the dragons dancing!” She began clapping her hands while Su frowned, saying she didn’t want to take a whiny baby to watch the New Year’s celebration, because their cousin, the princess Ushi, had been with them last year and cried the whole time.
Al hugged them both. “I’m sorry girls, but Ma-Ma will probably be very tired once Rei arrives, and that’s if he even gets her before the celebration begins. You may have to go with your cousins and the nannies tonight.”
They both protested, saying they’d rather see their new brother than watch fireworks and different acts on the palace pavilion. When Al assured them that it was going to be a very long and very boring wait, they reluctantly agreed to go up to the palace and play until Rei came.
He escorted them himself, taking them to the Empress and sharing the news of his son’s imminent entrance to the world. Lan Fan and Ling congratulated him, Prince Zixin whooped at finally having a male cousin to eventually play with, and Princess Ushi seemed to not be paying attention as she crawled around the room.
“How lucky that he’ll be born on New Year!” Ling remarked as he picked his daughter up from the floor and offered her a bite of a plum. “Maybe he’ll be a great leader, being born under the sign of the Rat.”
Lan Fan commented that Al himself was also born under the sign of the Rat, and that he’d been very fortunate in his own life so far.
“Apart from my childhood, I guess that’s true,” he said with a grin. He asked if they wouldn’t mind watching the girls while he went back to the garden home and paced around, waiting for his son’s birth. The Emperor didn’t mind at all, saying he rather liked having a palace full of children, and thanked him for doing his part to keep it filled.
“We may all be changing our tunes when these kids start becoming teenagers!” he remarked with a laugh as he turned and made his way back downstairs.
Mei alerted him through their soul bond that things were progressing slowly, that maybe he should go to his office and call his brother, or go workout at the dojo, or go for a ride on his Ishvalan stallion. He ignored all of that and instead stayed in their sitting room, listening intently and doing whatever he could to keep Mei calm and assist Tian with fetching anything she needed.
The cold day seemed to creep by, but just before sunset, Mei’s ki suddenly switched from painful endurance to determined action- he heard Tian telling her to push and he got to his feet. He wanted so badly to go to their room, to watch his son crown and emerge into the world, to encourage Mei in any way he could…
Instead, he listened through their telepathic link to what she could tell him. Rei’s head was clear, one more push and the shoulders would be out and he would finally be fully in the world.
“It’s almost over,” she thought to him, her relief evident in her tone.
He fidgeted, waiting the last few moments until his first son made himself known. He found himself wishing (and not for the first time) that his mother and father could be there with him, wondering what their reactions would be to their second grandson (though the third would be along soon enough), and that’s when Rei’s cries broke through Al’s wandering thoughts and he just listened.
He could feel the wave of relief from Mei as Rei was freed from her body, the relief at his first gasp of breath and his healthy cry. A smile broke out on Al’s face, one that felt a mile wide. His son had made it, on New Year’s Eve no less, and both mother and son were healthy and safe. He saw through Mei’s eyes his red, scrunched up face, a patch of black hair on top of his head still covered in gunk. His balled up fists waved frantically until Tian securely swaddled him in a soft cotton cloth, and then a warmer blanket. Mei held him to her breast to soothe him as she quietly delivered the afterbirth, and then Tian began the process of cleaning her up.
“Can I come in yet?” he asked excitedly.
He could feel her shake her head. “Soon. Just look at him,” she replied gently, studying his features in detail so she could telegraph the sight to him.
It only felt like a few minutes had gone by, but when Tian approached him, the sun had already gone down and he was sitting in the dark. “You can go see him, Dragon-sama,” she said bowing while carrying a bundled-up sheet. “He’s very handsome and has got quite a set of lungs on him.”
Al thanked her for another successful delivery, asked her to let the servants know to bring a fresh bed down, and to inform the Emperor that the baby had arrived at last. She bowed and left straight away, and Al retreated to where Mei and Rei were.
Her face was still a little swollen, but otherwise she looked as beautiful as ever. She beamed at him, seemingly having got a second wind now that everything was over.
“He looks just like you,” she squeaked as she turned the baby toward him. “Like a carbon copy, only with black hair!”
He sat down next to her in the bed, putting his arm around her shoulders and placing a kiss to her lips. “Well, I couldn’t have done it without you. He’ll probably have your personality, then.”
She sighed happily, leaning into his grip. “I am overjoyed to have borne you a son. I mean, I would have loved another daughter as well, but now we have both.” She looked into his eyes. “I want another, as soon as I’m healed up.”
He furrowed his brows, wondering if she was crazy with endorphins after the trauma childbirth. “You mean another pregnancy right away? Don’t you think it’s a bit too soon for that?”
She looked down at the baby in her arms, now slumbering peacefully with a full tummy. “No, not at all. We waited after the twins because we didn’t know what we were doing and there was two of them. But we know now, and there’ll be enough space between them that it won’t be a problem. And I trust the nannies and our family to help. I enjoy being pregnant, I enjoy bearing our children, and I want to continue to grow our family.”
Al squeezed her, tucking her head under his chin. “I’ll never say no to you giving me babies, Mei. I love you and our children more than you could ever know.”
She handed Rei to him when the servants came with the clean bed, and moments later, the Emperor, Empress, and all the children came down to meet the new baby. Rei was passed from his father to his uncle, then to his aunt, who knelt down to show him to his sisters and cousins. At last, he made it back to his mother, and Mei asked, “Alright Al, carry us up to the Palace, I wanna watch the lion dances and the fireworks.”
Su and Li began to bounce on the feet. “You really feel like going, Ma-Ma?”
She smiled at them. “New Year is my favorite holiday, has been ever since I was little. We might not be able to stay all night, but I definitely want to see the lions and the dragons!”
Lan Fan helped her pack her underclothes with rags and cloths, then carried Rei while Ling carried Ushi and Al carried Mei, and the children scampered ahead of all of them to the royal balcony where they would both open and view the festivities.
When the first rocket shot up into the sky and exploded in glittering sparks of red and gold, Rei’s tiny sleeping face grinned in his sleep, and Al ran a finger across his cheek. Yes, if Mei wanted to give him ten more babies, he’d be just as enthralled as he was right now. He kissed her and hugged his daughters as the musicians below began to play, and the dragons began to dance.